Thelma

***1/2

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Thelma
"Thelma appears aloof on the surface, but her constant choice of statement lipsticks, despite her otherwise conservative dress code, hints at the emotions screaming from within."

"It's very easy to lose control," Thelma's father tells her. Indeed, the young woman's life seems to have been mired in it. Raised by her very religious parents in the outer reaches of the back of beyond, she's away from home at the first time and everything is new - the classes, the possibility of alcohol or cigarettes and the first flush of romance. She might not be at home, but her parents are keeping an uncomfortably close track of her Facebook, calling her virtually every night and showing up to visit. "My dad's very kind," she tells her new-found friend Anja (Kaya Wilkins), but it all sounds on the verge of desperate coming after a tale in which he held her hand over a candle for so long it hurt.

Thelma (Eili Harboe) isn't just trying to control her existing faith regime but also her burgeoning feelings for Anja that start to manifest themselves as fits, which see her brain enter a trippy fugue state, where snakes slither and dreams might just become reality. (Those who do have epilepsy would be advised to stay away as there are several sequences that could trigger a fit). In one powerful scene at the ballet, Trier pins us nearly as tightly as Thelma, as the touch of Anja's hand provokes an internal war between desire, shame and confusion. Thelma appears aloof on the surface, but her constant choice of statement lipsticks, despite her otherwise conservative dress code, hints at the emotions screaming from within.

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Joachim Trier's film might be described as a slow burn, but this is the sort of burn you get from ice rather than fire. Its broody themes of adolescence and religion recall horror films of the Seventies like Carrie and The Omen, while its realistic setting is reminiscent of other recent indie genre films, like Let The Right One In and The Transfiguration. Repression blossoms into possession as Thelma struggles with her feelings, while Trier keeps us guessing as to who offers the most reliable assessment of what's happening.

Religious imagery abounds, from those serpents snaking through Thelma's imagination, to baptismal water and the blood of womanhood mixing with virginal milk on the floor - but Trier weaves them in without fuss or the usual genre fanfares, which lends them fresh dread. Trier and his co-writer Eskil Vogt retain an air of mystery, even as the film's darker undercurrents start to come to the fore. Some may find this too repressive, but those who prefer films with a bite of ambivalence will find it refreshingly chilling.

Reviewed on: 01 Nov 2017
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Strange things happen to a religious young woman when she starts to fall in love.


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